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Three possible causes for low cancer survival revealed in research

28 May 2015

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Low cancer survival rates in England could be result of GPs low access to CT and MRI scans and waiting times for referrals and results, research suggests.

One in five GPs in England reported having direct access to CT and MRI scans while their peers in six countries with similar health care systems reported having at least twice the level of direct access to these tests.

The UK-based GPs were least likely to refer quickly and GPs from across England and Wales also reported some of the longest waiting times for the results of CT, MRI and ultrasound scans.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “This work adds important detail to the complex problem of why the UK’s cancer survival lags behind other comparable countries. GPs have a difficult job to do. They have to ensure those who need specialist tests get them, without overloading a health system that’s already strained.

“But their role as gatekeepers to further investigation and specialist care does need to be reviewed in the current context,” she said.

Reflecting on the research Dr Peter Rose, lead author based at the University of Oxford, said it suggests that the interface between primary and specialist care in the UK may constrain the GPs ability to refer patients and may be important in our poor cancer survival compared with other countries.

Similarly Dr Richard Roope, clinical lead for Cancer at the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs across the UK are doing an excellent job considering the limited resources available to us.

“GPs are often criticised for over-referring as well as under-referring patients. In order to strike the right balance we need to invest in general practice to allow us to employ more GPs and support staff and to give GPs more access to technology that could ultimately save our patients’ lives,” he said.